Train system disrupted during the world’s biggest power outage in India yesterday

M G Devasahayam

[Mr. Devasahayam is a retired IAS and former chief of the Haryana State Electricity Board]

The biggest power outage in history struck 600 million people in India on Tuesday as three grids collapsed one after the other around 1pm.

National power grid is an interconnected network of transmission lines and sub-stations hooked on to generating stations on the one hand and load centres (or distribution companies) on the other. The generating stations supply electricity to the grid through the transmission lines. The load centres then draw the power from the lines and send it to the end-consumers

A delicate balance between generation and load must be maintained at all times to prevent a failure.

India has five-Northern, eastern, northeastern, southern and western-power grids. The state-owned Power Grid Corporation, which operates more than 95,000 circuit kilometre transmission lines, runs the grids. Of these, the northern, eastern and the northeastern grids collapsed on Tuesday.

A grid collapses if there is excess withdrawal of power by member states or oversupply by the generating unit. It has nothing to do with installed capacity or quantum of power generated.

Excess drawing is taking more electricity from the grid than declared to the grid operator the day before in a detailed report on projected use for every 15 minutes of the day. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission sets the drawing limit for each state, which is based on the agreement reached by them with the generating firm .

Core responsibility of the grid collapse is that of the Power Grid Corporation and the National Load Dispatch Centre and the responsibility is shared by numerous generation, transmission and distribution utilities.

Root cause is the rot that has set in the management of power utilities that has no management philosophy and does not give any importance to distribution and delivery efficiency. What they keep on harping is more and more generation, that too only centralised, because these are highly capital-intensive and offers good scope for kick-backs and corruption.

Powerless India is entering the ‘Dark Age’. The only solution is a holistic approach that combines Decentralised Distributed Generation (off-grid anchoring on Renewable Energy sources), Distribution & Delivery modernisation, Demand Side Management and End-use Energy Efficiency. Power Utilities also should be put through a paradigm change in management culture.